Cancer in my throat - what is is and how it is going.

Background:
I began noticing something in my throat over 18 months ago. At first, I thought it was some kind of cold/flu thing that I just could not kick for a couple weeks. Went to the doc and did a week of antibiotics as a last resort. Didn't work so then I thought it was some kind of allergy.
Tried lots of things - acupuncture, a visit to a naturalist and herbs, massage, energy work, and lastly a series of visits with a chiropractor.
Many good things happened - I now chew my food more slowly and completely which has helped eliminate acid reflux. Dealt with some mental/spiritual issues. Chiropractor has given me more and better range of motion for my head/neck than I have had in a decade or more.
However, the "thing" was still there. I could no longer sing. Sometimes I would almost lose my voice completely - other times is was raspy and sounded nasty.
Back to the doc and then to an ENT specialist. He scoped me and found a growth.
He was not overly concerned. Told me I could leave it there or have it removed in an outpatient surgery. It hampered my breathing if I tried to sleep on my right side and had been a general pain the neck for almost two years - lets get it OUT.

July 3rd - outpatient surgery at Metro Hospital. Went well, but took much longer than Dr. Spoto anticipated. It had also changed since he had seen me in his office 3 weeks earlier. We had to wait for the pathology report on the tissue he removed.

July 12th - I called Spoto's office and asked for the news - did not want to wonder for another week-end. The nice lady on the phone apologized before she delivered the news that included "carcinoma." Took the air out of me. Made it kind of hard to get up and replace a watch battery for a customer a few minutes after getting the news.

It is tough enough to get the news that your body has cancer. What was even more difficult for me was the prospect of telling our kids, family, and friends. I decided to keep a lid on it until we met with Dr. Spoto the following Monday.


July 15th, 2013
The Bad News: The pathology of the thing he cut out of my throat is not good. Squamous cell carcinoma - he equated it to something like skin cancer in my throat.

 Good News: The Most common form of throat cancer. Lots of ways to treat it. We will most likely start with a combination of radiation and chemotherapy.

The first thing I have to do is get a PET scan Saturday July 20th. I will get injected with some radioactive sugar and then they take pics. That will give the docs a map of where the bad stuff is so that they can best aim the radiation beams. Then I will follow up with Dr Spoto and meet some radiation/chemos docs. The sooner we get on this, the better - so we are on it.

Other good news: I will probably lose some weight AND I have been looking for an excuse to get my medical marijuana card.

July 20th
The PET scan at Metro. Had to lay still for an hour after being injected with the radioactive stuff through an IV they started. Then I was put on the movable table of the scanner (below). A couple of times during the scan they released a dye into my IV and I could feel it spread through my body and down my legs. It was warm. Weird - but I was prepared for it by the two staff members who do the PET scans.
The main reason for the PET scan is to see where the cancer is. To see if it was in my lymph glands and had jumped around my body. The scan was in two parts - one concentrating on my head and neck and the other from my neck to my knees.

 
This is what a PET scanner looks like. I was bundled up like a cocoon with an IV tube sticking out of the bundle. The operator goes into a little room and talks to you through a speaker - not that they say much, just to let me know when the dye was coming and once that we were almost done.
 
Pretty much lay there and listen to the machine whirring and ride the table back and forth through the TWO big ring things (this picture only shows one.)
 
Here is a link to how PET scans work: How PET scans do what they do.


July 29th 2013 
We just met with Dr Bott at the Metro Health Cancer Center. We went over my PET scan and started to formulate a plan of attack to CURE me of this cancer. (The word "cure" was used 2-3 times by Dr Bott - which we took as a very positive sign.)

The Great news - no evidence of the cancer hanging out below the neck/throat. By that I mean there was some concern initially that it may be moving around through my lymph glands but it appears that is HAS NOT. Here is a quote from the PET scan findings: "No abnormal hypermetabolism in the chest, abdomen, or pelvis." (Feel free to clap, smile, or offer other expressions of joy n happiness.)

The Good News - the first line of attack is going to be targeted radiation. There is a possibility of them combining radiation with some chemo, because there is a lymph gland very close to where the growth was in my throat which had a very, very slight indication in the PET scan. Notice I said "very, very slight" - here is lingo from the findings: "Minimal activity corresponds to a very small left level 2 node (3mm)." In the actual PET scan this little ass node (3mm is the size of a .10 ct diamond) had some VERY faint yellow color. The area where the growth was taken from was clearly yellow - the rest of my body was pretty much black n white.

So, I am meeting with Dr Jujjavarapu (obviously one of the many Dutch folks we have in W Michigan) on Wednesday 7/31. He is a chemo doc at the Center. THEN the next day they will collectively discuss my case in their weekly head/neck meeting to decide if they want to combine chemo with radiation or not.

 Surgery is a distant third (unless I told them I WANTED them to cut me open-no thank you very much) if the radiation or combo punch did not do the job.

Got fitted for a plastic helmet thingy and some dental guards that will hold my head in place and protect my toofers whilst they zap me. The mask starts out flat, they put it in hot water and put it over your face while warm so that it conforms to your face.
 
They fitted a mask like this to my face/head.
It keeps me still so the radiation goes where it is supposed to.
Also, they mark the mask - not my face.

My first radiation treatment is on Aug 12th. That day we will map out the remainder of the course of treatment. By then they will know how big to make the doses, how long each treatment will take (somewhere between 10-20 min each) and if they are going to do chemo in addition to radiation. More good news: The radiation is very targeted and low dose, so I can still hang around with everyone without no one getting all glowy n what not.

 I will be going for radiation daily M-F for 6 weeks starting Aug 12th.

 Dr Bott went over the list of possible side effects which I will not bore you with at this time. (If you want the list, mail $4 in unmarked $20 bills to me at the store.)

 Conclusion: When I think of what other people have/are going through, I am designating my condition Cancer Lite. For my part I am going to try to get in good mental and physical shape between now and 8/12 in order to best battle this bitch-ass cancer (I was going to use a real bad name, but then I remembered how delicate many of you are). To that end any and all prayers, good thoughts, happy energy, and white light offered on my behalf will be appreciated. I promise to drink up the positiveness aimed my way every morning when I do my stretches and go about getting my mind right.

 Put me in coach - I feel good, I think we can win this game.
 
JULY 31 - Met with Dr J - the chemo doctor. Not a whole lot of new information. However, the team of docs will be meeting tomorrow and my case is one they will discuss. I should know by Friday if they want me to do ONLY radiation or radiation and chemo. Obviously I am hoping for the All Radiation Plan.



August 2 - Okay - so what I hope for ain't zackly what happens. The team, aka The Tumor Board, has decided that yours truly is NOT going to get away with only radiation. My treatment will be radiation combined with chemo. The good part is that they will only be doing me with chemo 3 times over the course of the radiation: Day One, Day Twenty One, and Near the End.

August 5 - Today I had the all important pre-radiation dental exam. The idea is to make sure all my teeth are in good shape. If there is a cavity or a tooth that needs to go, it is better to get it BEFORE radiation. Radiation is tough on the teeth, so I was also fitted for some custom trays to give myself daily floride treatments starting now and continuing until I am out of the floride gel (5 months or so).

Good news for me was that there were no cavities or problems. Yippee.
 
August 12 - Are you ready to Rrrrrrrrrrrumble? Day one of radiation combined with the first dose of chemo to enhance the radiation. Julie spied a magazine article that was saying the Combo Punch is all the rage right now and it discussed the use of both in relation to throat cancer with mucho effectiveness.
 
So I got to meet some people on the other side of the building. Joni took the time to outline The Plan and gave me a book to keep track of everything, explained the various meds that would be dripping into me over the course of the ensuing 5 hours. Then she got me hooked up to the juice - first hydration, then anti-nausea meds, then the BAJ (Bad Ass Juice) and the star of the chemo show for me: Cisplatin. Then another big bag of hydro.
 
Cisplatin (aka Platinol) attacks the cancer cells by stopping them from growing so they die. Fun Fact - it is a platinum compound (jewelry is my life!). Godspeed Cisplatin - go kick some cancer ass, yo.
 
Look closely at the digital thing to see my score of 300. (he-he)
 
So, on to the other half of the combo punch. Things got a bit dicey for yours truly when they led me, towing my Platinol Pal, to the Blaster Room for the radiation. During my last visit with The Mask it was warm and pliable, conforming to the rugged handsomeness of my craggy visage and what not. This time bitch was cold and hard and pinned my head to the table like an angry wrestler.  This is how it is gonna be Mask?
 
The device is TIGHT (just doing its job, Cliff).
 
I got these two teeth protector things sticking out of my mouth, one on each side, and they put a slit in The Mask for them, but other than that it is a very snug fit. Can't breathe much at all through my mouth which puts the burden on my undersized snout. Think Yoga Cliffy - deep breath in on a 4 count, hold for 7 and release for 8. Tried for 4,7,8, reality was more: Breathe in for 2, hold for 1 and puff! Thought I might pee on the table, but after a couple minutes and a nervous fart or two we were off to the races.
 
 
Called to mind the whole thing about courage not being the absence of fear, but rather riding that fear for the eight second bell. Right?
 
This picture below PROVES my experience riding bulls.
 
 

Got through it (with Courtney telling me through the speaker, "You are doing real good. Just three more buzzes and you are done"). She also assured me that this was the LONGEST session I will have because they started with two x-rays then got the Doc to look at them.
 
Whoo - hoo, I can handle it. The rest of my sessions will be quicker and, with two exceptions, I will not be strapped to IV BAJ. Happy Days. 
 
Back to the Other Side with PP to finish my BAJ. Actually nodded off a couple of times. Came home and took a two hour nap - I don't nap, but ....................
 
My Silver Lining for the day is that I will only be dosed with BAJ a total of three times, so I am 33.3% done with that.
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